Analysing Academic Trends and Assessment Changes: A Comprehensive Study of Level 3 Cohorts

During the current academic year, the summer exam series made a comeback, having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During those years, alternate methods were employed to assign grades. To transition back to the traditional summer exam setup, adjustments were made to the exams, such as providing advance information. The grading approach for the 2022 exams aimed to strike a balance between the results of 2019 and 2021.

The performance measures for students aged 16 to 18, which are presented in this updated release for the 2021/22 academic year have been influenced by our decision not to incorporate outcomes from qualifications granted between January 2020 and August 2021.

Throughout this release, we draw comparisons with both 2021, the most recent year, and 2019, as it’s most relevant to contrast with the last year when traditional summer exams took place. Given the significant alterations in how A-levels and vocational qualifications were evaluated in 2020 and 2021, along with adjustments to grade boundaries and assessment methods for 2021/22, users should be cautious when interpreting comparisons over time, as they might not solely reflect changes in student performance.

  1. The Average Point Score (APS) per entry for all level 3 cohorts is lower in comparison to 2020/21: A level results decreased by 2.8 points, applied general by 0.7 points, and tech level by 1.1 points. However, the achievement level remains higher when compared to 2018/19: A level increased by 4.9 points, applied general by 3.1 points, and tech level by 1.9 points. [An increase of 10 points corresponds to a one-grade increase]. This aligns with Ofqual’s announcement in September 2021 that 2022 would act as a transitional year, aiming to strike a balance between 2021 (TAG grades) and 2019 (the last year when all students took exams).
  2. The trend of declining average attainment across level 3 cohorts in 2021/22, compared to 2020/21, was generally observed across various institution types (categorized as state-funded schools, independent schools, sixth form colleges, and ‘Other FE sector colleges’). However, an exception was noted for applied general attainment in sixth form colleges and independent schools, where it increased in 2021/22 (+0.2 points and +0.8 points respectively).
  3. The gap in attainment between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students is at its widest across all Level 3 cohorts (A level, tech level, and applied general) since the introduction of disadvantage measures in 2016/17.
  4. Gender gaps favouring female students in average attainment for A level, applied general, and tech level have narrowed in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21. The increase in average attainment was more pronounced for female students than for males, reflecting the alternative Centre Assessment Grade (CAG) and Teacher Assessed Grade (TAG) processes in 2019/20 and 2020/21 compared to 2018/19.
  5. The Retention rate, which indicates the percentage of students completing their main or ‘core’ study program, increased across all programs in 2021/22.
  6. Across all cohorts, non-disadvantaged students exhibit higher retention rates than disadvantaged students.
  7. Students with higher prior attainment levels are more likely to be retained compared to those with lower prior attainment levels, across all level 3 cohorts.
  8. Given the unprecedented changes in results awarded during the summers of 2020 and 2021, as well as alterations in assessment methods for 2021/22, users should approach comparisons over time with caution, as they might not solely reflect changes in student performance.
  9. The observed changes in headline statistics likely stem from alterations in grade awarding methodology and measurement calculations, rather than indicating a disparity in standards.

Tilda Scumma, ©Triad Pub Hub, Bristol, UK.

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